To get to the Deadlands, we had to drive away from Oxford into the Cotswolds, avoiding the security checks set up by my allies in The Family. I hated cooperating with Keller and his Pure Blood soldiers – but the alternative would lead to a shootout and a load of deaths. As long as we were captives in the bus, I could do nothing except assist Keller. I showed him which roads to take to avoid our patrols – but we still encountered a random roadblock between two villages. A sniper was on the roof of a van parked next to a car blocking the road. Another man was standing in the road, holding up his hand, telling us to stop. I didn’t recognise either of them, which was a problem. If I’d known them, getting them to let us pass would be easier.
Keller swore. “You were supposed to avoid security checks. Now we’ve got a road block ahead. What are you playing at?”
“It’s random!” I said. “I can’t predict random.”
“Get us through or we’ll have to use your people as human shields.”
“Okay! Okay! Just let me do the talking.”
Ravinder slowed down our bus as we got closer. There were only two armed men visible – the sniper and a long-haired guy in black jeans and a Slayer T-shirt – but I knew others would be also watching, covering them, because that was what I would have done. The Slayer fan walked up to the bus, looking in the windows. The Pure Bloods kept their weapons hidden. The man approached the door. Ravinder opened it. The man stepped aboard, looking down the aisle. Ravinder was sweating. I hoped the man wouldn’t notice.
“I’m looking for Pure Bloods,” he said. “Who are you people?”
“We’re Family, like you,” I said. “My name’s Kris. Dex sent me on a mission to rescue these people from a Pure Blood compound. Now I’m supposed to deliver them to a safe house.”
“Where’s the safe house?”
“Can’t tell you that. The information is compartmentalised.”
The man nodded. He knew the protocols. Secrets shared were secrets lost. “What’s today’s password, Kris?”
Our passwords were changed every 24 hours. “Aristotle.”
He glared at me. “That’s yesterday’s password.”
“No – it’s not.”
“You’re right. Just testing you. Listen, Kris, there are still a few Pure Bloods loose. Watch for them. Don’t stop for strangers.”
“We won’t,” I said.
“Good luck,” the man said. He exited the bus and moved the car aside. He waved to us as we drove by.
“Very good,” Keller said. “Now drive north.”
We drove through the Cotswolds, heading towards Birmingham. At the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, the Government had nuked London in an attempt at containment, but that experiment had failed so miserably that no other cities had been bombed. Cities like Birmingham and nearby Coventry had not been nuked, but they had become no-go zones as the zombie plague spread. There were over a million zombies in Birmingham and more in the rest of the Midlands. We renamed it The Deadlands because it was too dangerous for anyone with half a brain.
You avoided going into the area unless you had a death wish.